Smoggy, smoggy LA. Photo credit: Herkie via Flickr/CC BY-SA
To anyone who doesn't think it's worth asking the coal, oil, and manufacturing industries to clean up their act a bit, consider this -- more than half the nation's population still lives in regions where the levels of ozone and particulate pollution are high enough to make it unhealthy to breathe. That's 154 million Americans who are routinely breathing air that can be considered dangerous to human health. This fact is front and center of the American Lung Association's State of the Air 2011 report. Despite decades-long efforts to reign in this kind of pollution, we still have much work to do -- especially in our most populous, and most polluted state. Yes, I'm talking about California. Here's Time's Bryan Walsh reporting points out that 8 of the 10 most polluted cities in the nation are in California, and that Bakersfield takes the dubious top honors of having the least breathable air in the nation. A stunning 50,000 people have asthma there, out of a population of 800,000.
The pollution comes from the usual suspects -- auto emissions, coal-fired power plants, oil refineries, factories -- and believe it or not, things have gotten better over the years, and are still on a trend of continual improvement. Yes, there was a time when even more then half the nation breathed polluted air on a regular basis.
So what's changed? Why is our air cleaner and healthier than it was 40 years ago? One big reason -- say it with me -- the Clean Air Act. Yes, it's pretty much the sole reason that industry has cleaned up its act over the years. And as you know, that Clean Air Act routinely comes under fire, both from corporations who don't like having to pay to upgrade their polluting equipment and the politicians who appreciate their campaign donations. Which is why us regular ol' Americans need to continually fight to protect the law that's keeping our air safe to breathe.
In fact, Walsh frames his entire article on the subject as a call to arms of sorts, and does so convincingly. So I'll give him the last words: "The reduction in air pollution over the past 40 years--even as economy and population have grown--really is one of the great victories of the environmental movement. Even in cities like Los Angeles that still score high on pollution, the air is nothing like the hellish smog experienced decades ago. But that success doesn't mean it's time to end the clean air war--not when people are still dying from pollution."